Ireland’s women to set up base in Iwate for Olympics; March camp in Malaysia set for relocation

Hockey Ireland met with Japanese delegates from Iwate last Thursday to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties for the Irish women’s pre-Games holding camp this summer.

Iwate is located two hours North of Tokyo and will provide an ideal base for acclimatisation ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Games as a key Hockey town in Japan and a brand-new pitch for the pre-Games preparation.

L-R: Hockey Ireland Performance Director, Adam Grainger; Team Ireland Chef de Mission, Patricia Herberle; Hockey Ireland CEO, Jerome Pels; Mayor Koji Sasaki of Iwate Town, Japan; Irish Women’s Hockey Player, Anna O’Flanagan; Tom Matsuoka, Interpreter for delegation, Sport Unity; and Assistant Manager of Social Education for Iwate Town, Naoki Osawa. Pic: Sarah Campion

Performance Director, Adam Grainger, said “The Hockey Ireland Holding Camp partnership with Iwate Town is a very welcome addition to the Senior Women’s programme as the team prepare for Tokyo 2020.

“This Holding Camp offers, a superb location for environmental acclimation and final preparation for The Games themselves, while also offering an opportunity to further develop the longstanding hockey relationship between Ireland and Japan.”

The squad will arrive in Iwate in early July, two weeks ahead of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, with the aim of the holding camp to adapt to playing conditions.

“While in Tokyo in December myself and Adam were welcomed to the town by Mayor Sasaki on a visit there, and we were very impressed with both the welcome and set up, and the high-class hockey facilities.

“We are confident that the Team Ireland hockey athletes will be looked after well and be able to prepare appropriately for the Games”, said Team Ireland Chef de Mission for the Tokyo Games, Patricia Heberle, was present at the MOU signing.

Iwate has a population of 13,000 people but is relatively hockey-mad and has a mammoth training complex which features four water-based pitches backing onto each other as well as a stadium pitch which has hosted national championships.

Nestled in the north of the country, it will provide the Green Army with a venue to ease into their new surrounds in Japan before the culture shock of Tokyo and the Olympic village.

Elsewhere, as first reported in the Irish Examiner last Thursday, the Irish women’s key training camp in Malaysia next month has been scrapped due to the outbreak of the Corona virus with coach Sean Dancer keen to see an alternative plan in place soon.

His panel returned from South Africa last week from their first camp of Olympic year and Dancer’s current preference is a return journey with Durban the potential host town.

That is because both China and Japan are also having to relocate their training for the time being with South Africa’s climate offering the most similar weather conditions to what will be met in Tokyo.

“It’s put everything in doubt, not just for us but for everyone,” Dancer told the Examiner. “We are working hard to get something else nailed down quickly but it will definitely be in that same window from March 16 to April 5.”

Hockey Ireland CEO Jerome Pels and Mayor of Iwate Town Koji Sasaki Pic: Sarah Campion

Great Britain were also mooted to be checking out the possibility; should it all come together, it would make for some high quality sparring.

He adds that he was reasonably content with how January’s camp in Stellenbosch played out but a freak storm did mean the warm-weather element was lacking for several days.

“The heat wasn’t what we were after and maybe we didn’t get that extra 20 or 25% challenge from it.

“But we did extend the group and gave opportunities [to five younger players] to expand our group and create competition.

“We don’t take a huge amount from our three wins over South Africa and while it was disappointing to lose two times to Germany, we will learn a lot more than they will from those games.”

For Dancer, he is currently mulling over his selections for that March training camp with two weekend camps coming up which will feature all 35 of his current panellists.

He is aware, though, that he will quickly have to start whittling down his panel.

“There is going to be a bit more stress than usual getting down to 16 players [rather than the usual 18].

“Tokyo will be the hottest Olympics ever so, in the end, with only 15 field players so we have to get through a bigger workload than what a normal team would do. That will be reflected in the way we train and perform and that is why we are pushing them so hard.”

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